Have you ever been in the presence of greatness?
It’s happened to me a couple times. The first was when I was in high-school and had a few words with a Nobel Prize-winning physicist–one who had been a leader on the Manhattan Project. I was awed by his intellect.
This weekend I saw greatness of another sort. I went to Commencement at the University of New Hampshire, where a 2013 graduate give the address. In many ways, this was a typical graduation. There were lots of champagne corks popping and pictures with proud families and a LOT of relief that the last tuition checks had been written. Now, I’ve been to a few graduations and heard my share of speeches. Normally there’ a continuous low-volume buzz while the speakers talk. But not this time.
UNH gave an honorary Doctorate to Staff Sergeant Ryan Pitts, UNH Class of 2013, a former forward observer in the 173rd Airborne Brigade. While serving in Afghanistan, Sergeant Pitts’ position was assaulted by over 200 insurgents. In the initial attack he received shrapnel in his feet, legs, hip, arm, and forehead. Despite his wounds, he took control of the position, held off the enemy, and helped our forces prevail. For his actions that day, Sergeant Pitts received the Medal of Honor.
He spoke of courage: courage in the face of terror; courage in the face of discouragement; courage in ourselves; courage in others. “Be courageous,” he told the grads, “And appreciate courage in others who take action in the face of fear. Courage can’t exist without fear, and fear is everywhere. The key is to deny fear’s purpose, which is to hold us back.” You could have heard a pin drop during his talk.
It’s easy to overlook small acts of courage. When we face failure, loss, rejection, or we’re just overwhelmed, it’s tempting to just give up. What kept Sergeant Pitts going during the battle was his commitment to his buddies—those he fought with, and who helped save his life. Our team gives us the strength go on.
It’s easy to be cynical amidst the scandals of the markets and self-serving comments and actions of pols and executives. But when you meet moral greatness like that of Sergeant Pitts, it’s hard not to have a lot of hope for the future.
Sergeant Pitts, thanks for your speech. And thank you for your service.
Douglas R. Tengdin, CFA
Chief Investment Officer
Leave a comment if you have any questions—I read them all!